• Published 29th Aug 2012
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Eclipse: House of Frostmane's Few - Spectre_Crystaleye



Bellatores Sub Velum. We are the Unknown. We are the Unseen. We are the Warriors beneath the Veil.

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1.1 "Curtain Call"

CHAPTER 1.1

"Curtain Call"

The soft light of a low moon danced with the gentle ripples of a calmed lake that stretched and wove though the dense, wild hills surrounding the small village. In the fresh absence of Celestia’s bright sun, an unusual serenity seemed to fall over the vast expanses of the Everfree. The feral, unchecked clouds of the wood sailed a smooth, silent course across the brightening blanket of stars painted throughout the Night Princess’s indigo heavens. The breeze carried the aroma of campfires from other villages nestled along the opposite lakeshore to the east, ripe in their duty of mealtime.

On a hilltop overlooking the draconic settlement from the south, a devoted corn snake made her way carefully though the underbrush, tracking a rodent her deft tongue had discovered a few minutes prior. She rounded a rock outcropping and pursued the scent between a pair of thick bushes nestled amongst the gnarled trunks of a crop of trees. The tiger-marked serpent paused for a moment to catch her bearings after she slowly slithered onto a moss-covered limb protruding along the ground from one of the shrubs. A few flicks of her forked tongue rewarded her patience with a renewed trail to follow, and she wasted no time in disembarking from the oddly straight, cold branch in pursuit of her quarry.

An amused pair of lavender eyes watched the reptile slide from the barrel of her well-concealed weapon from under a web of mesh-netted canvas strips and peat-moss.

“Bet she is following something tasty.” The other canvas and peat-moss shrubbery whispered with a giggle to match the mirth of the shooter’s eyes next to her.

“Maybe that little grey field mouse that passed by a while back?” The first shrub mused in her ever-confident silky voice as she returned to scanning the village below.

The huts in the valley below lay different in the dim of night than they had in the haze of pre-dawn when the pair had first arrived. The fire pits that were but smoldering embers then were now full of vibrant life as they licked and nipped at the meat on their spits. All around them circled the bipedal dragonkin waiting for the first taste. Like vultures of the buffalo plains, they loitered hungrily and yet patiently all at once for their chosen chef to declare the entrées complete. Where but a few warriors paced in their appointed rounds in the sleepy dawn, dozens now skittered around the paths and porches busy finishing chores for the day.

Staff Sergeant Skylancer panned her optic with skilled hooves over the scene. The heavily enchanted crystal lenses captured every detail for her in brilliant clarity as she noticed movement from a doorway. “Two more casters just came out of the tall eastern hooch, Patchy. You see ‘em?”

“Yes.” Corporal Patch Up replied in her softer tone while she looked from her binoculars down to the small notebook between her elbows. With the deftness of tooth shared by all ponies, the grease-paint covered maroon pegasus plucked the pencil lying beside it to scratch down two more tallies under a map she had scrawled throughout the long day. “That makes thirty-four magi and only nineteen warriors…how peculiar.” Her thick, regal Manehattain accent had faded somewhat over time away from the city, but it still spiced her voice like fine cider in the late summer.

“Maybe we actually got a reliable tip for once…” The commentary of a pair of rolling eyes grumbled back as they completed their scan. A long pause followed as those eyes twitched into a cringe and a frustrated whimper, “Ack! It’s back again… just below my wing! Get it! Get it! Get it!”

The smaller mock shrubbery giggled at the muted pleading of the similarly grease-painted white pegasus. With expert care and guile, she slithered a steady, unseen hoof under the ghillie of her shooter and scratched the reoccurring itch left by a hungry insect earlier in the day.

Sky nearly lost grip of her elegant, though well camouflaged, long boltlance as she melted into the grass in a pool of bliss. A groan of relieved pleasure was all she could offer in thanks to the ever-caring hoof of the team’s medic as she struggled to maintain her gaze on the village. The snowy white pegasus was glad her form and façade were so heavily concealed when Patch finished her treatment, her tender smoothing of feathers and coat evoking a blush far brighter than she ever would have admitted.

“Thanks.” She finally sighed after a long recovery and a delightful shiver.

“You really should remember to spray yourself next time.” Came Corporal Patch's amused reply.

“I didn’t want to risk it,” Sky retorted once she had regained her composure and resumed her casual scan, “what with the dragonkin having such good senses of smell and all. I figured bug repellant wasn’t that important this time.”

“You say that as though it helped a fortnight ago.” Patch teased back with a giggle.

“Hey!” She shot a glare through her mesh hood at the Corporal, “How was I supposed to know changelings weren’t actually insects?!”

The medic seemed to brighten up at the mentioning of the creatures before she swooned as softly as she could, “Oh! Speaking of that, did you see the big piece in Clothes Horse Magazine about the wedding?”

“The only info I have of that day was from the Commandant’s debriefing.” Sky replied dryly. She had lost count of how many sabots she had fired that particular day in the battle far north of Canterlot, but she was fairly sure it was more than there was confetti at the reception that night.

“Well! First off, it was lovely! If nothing else, the Royal Guard is at least good for a quick cleanup after a scuffle.” They shared a snicker before Patch Up continued. “Anyways, did you know that the Bearers of Harmony were the planners? Lady Fluttershy’s avian chorus sang over the precession, Pinkie Pie hosted the reception under one of Rainbow Dash’s fantastic rainbooms, and Lady Applejack cooked for the entire event!”

“Mmmm…” the marksmare interrupted with a watering maw at the thought of Sweet Apple Acre’s cuisine. Zap-apple jam was one of her favorite treats, and the season was fast approaching again for its harvest.

“And the gowns, “Patch sighed at the image locked away in her mind’s eye, “I didn’t think it possible, but Lady Rarity once again outdid herself.”

Sky hid a soft smile to herself as her teammate dove into another Rarity Praise Cascade. “Oh?”

“Oh yes! The cuts were flawless! The frills, the lace, the tiaras to the shoes!" Corporal Patch Up's intensive training was all that kept her volume in check, though none of her exuberance was lost to her friend. “Oh what I wouldn't give to have one of her dresses made just for me…”

Skylancer chuckled at a thought as she mused in jest, “Oh yes! A lovely little skirt and blouse to run about the battlefield with your magical wand of bandages. Praise the graceful Medic Fairy!”

Patch Up screwed her face into a friendly scoff, “Oh ha ha, Staff Sergeant,” She paused for a moment as her expression faded with her tone to an almost longing dream, “You don’t know. Maybe I’ll get to attend a fancy ball someday. It could happen.”

Skylancer was just about to answer when movement caught her attention across the dimly-lit arcane reticle of her optic. She quickly and smoothly slid her support-side hoof to the dial on the objective and twisted evenly. The view on the perfect crystal magnified further to define an ancient dragonkin slowly making its way down the steps from the largest of the huts in the center. From gnarled-horned head to talon-clad feet he was lavishly adorned in gold and jewels of every shape and size. His magi robes, though tattered from age, were far more elaborate than the others they had recorded around the village and his staff was bristling with feathers and charms of all flavors.

“That’s Fek’Tawny One Eye. “ Patch had immediately read her shooter’s intent and snapped back to duty in time to watch the old drake ponderously trudge towards a hut across the square. She took a moment to confirm her suspicions from a photograph tucked into her notebook. It matched right down to the jagged scars that raked over where an eye had once been.

Sky’s mood continued to brighten as she watched the archmagi slip into the guarded hut between a pair of sentries. “Our informant did say he was supposed to be here. This is…”

“Mako Two to Raptor, Situation report?” A painfully eloquent male voice echoed into her head, cutting her sentence short. The enchanted, ruby-crowned platinum bud laid a bit too naturally in her ear and she often forgot it was there. Sky flicked a hoof-tip over the matching ruby on the platinum collar pressed to her throat but didn't trigger it as her partner spoke using her own matching device.

“Raptor confirms presence of primary tango on-site. Update personnel count, three-four castors and one-nine warriors mixed melee and archery capable.” Patch paused for a moment to let the network of mana-communications shuffle its encryption enchantment patterns again. “No sign of the Package yet. Primary infiltration approach still green… you’ll know when we know Monocle Two.”

“No need for the business Raptor, Mako team standing by.” The tone painted over the Kensinghoof stallion’s words were positively dripping with annoyance and they couldn't tell if it was the week-long failed hunt or their degrading professionalism over the com that was to blame.

“Oh for Celestia’s Sake!” Sky snarled quietly, “That arrogant jerk needs a kick in the flank.”

Patch Up blinked a few times at the sudden outburst before she could wrangle a reply, “Oh, Keen Edge is just getting a touch edgy from all these dead ends.”

“He has been insufferable for weeks, Patchy!” Her honed whisper was sharp enough to cut a sapphire. “He has been on my case about Everything! My marksmanship, my swimming and flight times, my equipment! Two Tuesdays ago, he scolded me on my swordsmanship! My swordsmanship! My hoplite ancestors didn’t fight like dainty little Kensinghoof pixies and neither will I!” She took a moment to ground herself by slipping a wing over the antique darkwood and ivory hilt of a gladius sheathed to her side. The ancient relic brought her comfort, her long family history carried on with pride by her hooves at the end of the still-very functional mithril blade.

The medic beside her had been suppressing a snicker for a time before she found the right moment to respond to the rant, “You sound more flustered than frustrated, dear. I think you like him.”

If pegasus eyes could burn through canvas, they would both be ablaze from the glare chiseled across Staff Sergeant Skylancer's face. “I do not! Blehk! Could you imagine being Mrs. Keen Edge, docile little house-nymph of a pompous Barron? Pass.”

“Ok. Yeah. Eww.” They both shared a defusing giggle as their conversation fell to tranquility once more. “Though you must admit, there is something charming about the thought of romance and marriage, Skylee.”

The shooter froze for a moment as she always did when Patch used her little nickname, and she desperately fought down a hitch in her voice as it tried to creep past a couple of butterflies that somehow found their way into her stomach. As on other occasions, she was grateful that they were usually stalking the brush in camouflage when she spent time close to her alone out of combat. Grease paint and thick net cloaks served wonders to hide red skin under a stark-white coat. “I… I suppose, heh heh.” She quietly cleared her throat and shook off a chill before she could regain her silky composure, “…but not to Sir Stiff-Lip McWindbag.”

Another tempered little giggle-fit struck the shrubs in the treeline before Patch spoke teasingly, “You know, I’m pretty sure the Commandant is still single, and still very handsome despite his age.”

Skylancer shot an incredulous glance to the prodding medic before retorting, “I don’t think there has ever been a mare in Eclipse who hasn’t had a crush on Frostmane, but,” She paused to collect her voice into a disturbed melody, “He has been like a father to me since I was just a little filly, so…Gross.”

The smaller pegasus often forgot how much younger most of the house’s members were indoctrinated than she was and how much different their relationships to each other and to the command structure must have been. She dismissed it with a bemused chuckle as she set along another sweep of the village with her binoculars. They shared the next few moments in bright serenity and silence.

“You know, I…” The marksmare’s next conversational piece was slain on the spot when she noticed Fek ‘Tawny emerge from the hut a few moments later with a noticeable spring in his old steps while the two guards disappeared inside.

The relic of a dragonkin seemed to waste no time in pleasantries as he limped his way back towards the main structure he had embarked from earlier. Two senior warriors loitering on the steps outside snapped to attention and briskly fell into the archmagi’s wake as he passed. The procession was swept out of sight and calm soon washed back over the valley, even if only for a glancing moment.

The ambience on the hilltop to the south was so deathly silent that the air passing through felt like it was trespassing in an unwelcome home. The pair of recon ponies had switched effortlessly back into a working mindset, and their focus was un-shatterable as they surveyed the camp, keeping a careful eye on the small hut all the while. It was only seconds before their week-long vigilance was finally rewarded.

“Skylee, Eyes on the guarded hut.” Patch directed as she watched the iron door swing open though the grace of her binoculars.

The marksmare was on it instantly and wasted no time zooming her extravagant optic in once again to view the guards returning to sight in perfect detail. The two reptilian bipeds drug a body between them, its arms hooked over each shoulder to allow the rest of its form to drag along the ground like a sack of flower.

It was a unicorn.

“That’s the package.” Patch Up stated with flat certainty as she glanced down at the pictures in her notebook once more. The smiling royal guard in the photographs was a far cry from the wretched beaten form being lugged along the filthy roads of the town. His horn was snapped off at its base, and his once perfectly ivory coat was riddled with crimson ruin and bruises. Her medical background was in full swing as she took in every flaw and deformity from missing ear to mangled legs. “His hind legs are broken.” She remarked in disappointment, more to herself than anything.

“But he’s still alive.” Came the reply of her shooter as she watched the stallions eyes blink weakly and look around in a daze. “Call it in, Patchy. It’s show-time.”

Patch nodded and keyed the gemstone on her collar while her eyes remained trained on the trio’s march towards some wooden cages near the main hut. “Raptor to all units, we have confirmation of package Romeo Gama six-eight-zero-three. Package is non-ambulatory but conscious. Raptor standing by.”

A male voice pinged back into their ears a moment later. “Raptor one this is Aurora, we copy your traffic, wait one.”

“Copy, holding.” Patch replied.

“Mako, Holding.” Came Keen’s voice a split second later.

They waited for what seemed like eons while the pair watched the dragonkin hurl the heap of destroyed pony into a cell. The gentle rise and fall of his ribcage was promising news to the pair as they then set quickly to work locating every living being they could lay eyes on. When the communication gem finally chimed back to life, they knew why the wait has been so long.

“Raptor, this is Aurora Actual.” The heavenly voice of their Princess of the Daylight sang like righteous fire through the airwaves, filling their hearts with renewed resolve. “You found him?”

“Affirmative. Romeo Gama six-eight-zero-three is present in scaly encampment two-eight, non-ambulatory but alive. Presence on the ground is hostile.” The medic repeated to the concerned monarch. “Alpha Six is on station and standing by for green light, over.”

There was a long pause before Celestia spoke again, her tone authoritarian yet spiced with concern. “Alpha Six, you are clear to engage. Be careful, my ponies and good luck. Aurora Actual, out.”

The airwaves erupted with chatter a moment latter, among them their team leader’s bubbly, feminine voice, “Ok Raptor! You heard Anya, let’s get this rodeo started! Mako is hoofs wet in two, ETA ten mikes.”

Second was the regal voice of the commander of their aerial assets, “Alpha Six this is Grace Actual, be advised we are on station. Hurricane Flight is on standby for close air support if needed.”

“Solid copy, Grace.” Captain Steelwing’s news was a welcome slice of peace in their minds.

“Poise to Alpha Six. En-route to primary extract point. ETA two-five mikes.” The voice of the communication officer aboard the smaller of the two airships in Eclipse’s arsenal confirmed next.

“Copy, Poise. See you at the LZ.” Patch replied while her partner had begun calming her breaths and heart rate for the task set before them. She too spent a moment to consciously quell her excited nerves and settle in tune with her shooter and shift comfortably into her binoculars. The maroon mare locked in on a single dragonkin standing on the edge of the pier over the water and glanced down at her map. “Target. Range four-hundred seventy-two meters. It’s a melee on the end of the pier. Wind eastbound, push one and a half left.” She whispered to the marksmare.

Staff Sergeant Skylancer shifted her boltlance gingerly on its resting point to bring it in-line with the unsuspecting reptilian loitering on the water’s edge. A twitch there, a shifting hoof here, and her reticle came to a perfect rest just above and to the left of its long forehead. With a satisfied little grin, she slowly released the weapon’s bolt, allowing it to drive a perfectly crafted, diamond-tipped tungsten sabot from its cozy resting place in the magazine to its temporary home in the battery. With her lance primed and ready, she forced her excited grin to fade under a trained regimen of deep breaths before she finally muttered a reply. “On target.”

“Hold scope. Stand by.”

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